are we safer?


  • For additional discussion about defining suspicious behavior, have students consider activities that law enforcement agencies consider potentially criminal in the FRONTLINE resource "Suspicious Behavior? Really?" Behaviors include "Individuals who carry on long conversations on pay or cellular telephones"; also, "Strange odors coming from a house or building." Discuss the circumstances in which such behaviors would or would not be suspicious and ways that such documentation could potentially lead to abuses.
  • The film addresses the growth of a largely unseen intelligence apparatus termed "Top Secret America." As a class, watch the opening video from The Washington Post investigation "Top Secret America," and discuss whether the government should keep secrets from its citizens, and if so, what sort of secrets would be acceptable. Assign students to investigate historical instances of the government or government officials restricting access to sensitive information -- for example, the physical condition of presidents like John Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt; attempts by the U.S. intelligence community to remove Fidel Castro from power in Cuba; the relocation of German scientists after World War II to the United States, etc. Students should research the details of each historical event/issue, articulate the controversy in their own words, and make informed decisions as to whether this particular information should have been kept from the American public.
  • Some critics of America's security apparatus say it drains too many tax dollars and lacks sufficient oversight. Have students investigate whether or not these charges are justified using The Washington Post's "Top Secret America" report and other resources.
  • Investigate how compatible fusion centers are with America's federalist system. Begin by showing the class FRONTLINE's interactive map of fusion centers in the United States. Go to the fusion center closest to your school and examine its role, duties and geographic scope. Remind students that states and the national government have divided and often overlapping responsibilities. Then have them research which sections of the U.S. Constitution could be used to justify the development and use of interstate fusion centers. (Possible answers may include the Commerce Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause, presidential power as commander in chief, etc.) Students should share their findings with the class and explain whether or not they believe the Constitution and its federal system allow for the existence and use of fusion centers.
  • In 2009, the Obama administration replaced the term "global war on terror" with "overseas contingency operations." Have students read the article "Obama administration says goodbye to 'war on terror'" and discuss the difference between the two phrases. What factors might encourage the use of each term? Why does such labeling matter? Do these language choices constitute propaganda? Ask students to take a position on this question and offer justification.
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